While Borderline Personality Disorder is not generally diagnosed in children, many with the disorder feel that even as a child, there were symptoms and signs of the disorder. When my wife and I had an educational assessment done of our emotionally- sensitive daughter when she was eight years old, the “social and emotional functioning” section of the assessment sounded very much like childhood borderline. After meeting numerous people with Borderline Personality Disorder and their families, I have identified several signs that a parent can be on the look-out for. These are by no means a diagnostic guide, as I am not qualified to diagnose any mental disorder and there is no diagnostic guide for BPD in children. Yet, these are some of the common traits of children who, later in life, developed Borderline Personality Disorder. Certainly, a person doesn’t have to have all of them or, even if he/she does have all of them, it’s not a foregone conclusion that he/she will develop BPD.
- Physical sensitivity to the sensory input. This sensitivity may include the inability to tolerate loud environments, to wear “scratchy” clothing or expressions of disgust with smells that others are not sensitive to.
- Inconsolable as a baby or toddler. The “borderline” child is more likely to exhibit more distress than his/her siblings and have long crying jags and/or temper tantrums.
- Migraine headaches and/or other physical, chronic pain. Pain is a common feature of BPD. This pain may show up in childhood as a migraine or some other form of physical pain.
- Inability to integrate the meaning emotional experiences. This represents at some level a “failure to mentalize” on the part of the child. He/she may exhibit an inability to understand the emotions of others as displayed in their faces and/or through their actions.
- Intense personalization of events. The belief that all things are “about them” or “about their feelings,” particularly social events and situations.
- Anxiety leading to avoidant behavior. This can represent itself through avoiding social situations (e.g. “because those people are mean”) and or avoiding academic tasks.
- Intense emotional reactions to frustration. Temper tantrums and the inability to tolerate frustrating emotional situations, particular social ones. This can manifest itself in violence or in bridge-burning.
- Shame. The feeling that he/she is not a worthy person and “deserves” to get hurt. He/she may also “run away” from friendships or social situations that are shame-inducing.
- Not feeling “normal”. Young people with BPD seem to feel at some level “something is wrong with me” or “I’m not normal”. The feeling of “strangeness” seems to be a theme in young people with BPD.
- Expectations of doom. The concern that at any time the world is going to come down around their ears, especially socially. Sometimes there is paranoia around this subject, as if their friends are really “fooling” them into believing they’re liked. At any time, the borderline child could be rejected and ostracized.
While this is probably not a completely exhaustive list of the traits of the borderline child, these are the common traits I’ve experienced and been told. It is important for parents to identify an “emotionally vulnerable” child as early as possible. The road of an adolescent and young adult borderline can be dangerous, painful and even deadly. Borderlines are 400 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Based on the non-scientific polls conducted on my website, 70-75% of borderlines abuse substances, engage in self-injury and attempt suicide at least once in their lives.